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mr peabody

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King tides, boosted by sea-level rise, are flooding East Coast communities

by Matthew Cappucci | Washington Post | 20 Oct 2020

What once happened only with a storm is now routine on fair-weather days.

Despite tranquil weather to start this week, flooding has affected coastal communities from the Florida Keys to Maine. Long stretches of shoreline along the East Coast were inundated, water levels running a foot or more above normal. The swollen sea temporarily claimed streets, parking lots and public parks, and even seeped into homes, reminiscent of a storm surge.

But there was no storm to be found. In fact, many places enjoyed pleasant weather and sunshine. Yet coastal flood advisories plastered the coast, forcing road closures and flooding properties.

Last month featured major coastal flooding in Charleston. The weather was beautiful.

The culprit? King tides. A name informally attached to extra-high tides spurred by astronomical alignments, king tides often reach their peak in the fall. Decades ago, their impact was minimal. But added to the background of climate-driven sea-level rise, nowadays they are routinely problematic.

“I think of this like a stacking of phenomena,” said William Sweet, an oceanographer with NOAA specializing in sea-level rise and flooding issues. “We didn’t flood 30 or 40 years ago, but since then … sea levels have been a half-foot to a foot higher.”

The rise in water has left thousands of homes and businesses vulnerable to sunny-day flooding, disrupting daily life and undermining property values in some areas.

As greenhouse gases resulting from human activity continue to accumulate in the atmosphere and warm the climate, sea-level rise and coastal inundation will only continue to grow with time, even on sunny days.

Millions of homeowners face flood risks without realizing it, and climate change is making it worse



What are king tides and why are they greatest in the fall?

October is typically the worst month for king tide flooding, with some of the highest water levels of the year.

King tides are the highest tides that occur and are easily predictable based on the orbits of the sun and the moon. Both celestial bodies exert a gravitational pull on the oceans, helping generate tides. The closer either body, the greater the tide.

Earth is closest to the sun in January, by a margin of more than 3.1 million miles compared with June. That increases tides in the months leading up to and around the new year.

High tides are then maximized when the moon reaches its closest point to Earth in its orbit, known as perigee, which occurred Friday.

Local weather plays a role in tides, too, and tends to enhance them in the fall. Along the East Coast, one of the biggest influences on tides is the Bermuda High, a high-pressure system anchored west of the Azores over the open Atlantic. Winds swirl in a clockwise pattern around it.

During the summer, flow around the Bermuda High brings heat and humidity to the Gulf and East Coasts and soupy conditions to the eastern United States. But during the winter, the Bermuda High shifts farther south and east, its influence on local winds dwindling. The onshore flow it generates is maximized in the summer and reaches a minimum during winter.

That means that the overlap of onshore winds and sun/moon-enhanced tides is greatest during the fall, particularly in the months of September, October and November. The tides are usually the most severe in October, having the most propensity for widespread impact. Waters are also still warm from summertime, and “thermal expansion” makes sea levels just a tad higher.



King tides flooding the East Coast

On Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, king tide flooding was rampant up and down the East Coast, despite otherwise tepid weather.

In Key West, Fla., the National Weather Service warned that “flooded roads will probably be a mixture of rain and salt water” after heavy downpours moved through the area. The office posted a photo to Twitter showing the overnight flooding.

Federal report: High-tide flooding could happen ‘every other day’ by late this century

Flooding was reported in the Coconut Grove neighborhood of Miami, a location known for its susceptibility to even a minor spike in water level. The community sits barely a foot above sea level. Home values in the affluent area have been affected by the frequent flooding. Walkways in public parks sat half a foot or more below water.

Miami, Jacksonville, Charleston and Wilmington, N.C., were all included in coastal flood advisories Tuesday.

Some roads were cut off in Mount Pleasant, S.C., while intersections were flooded in Charleston. Just last month, Charleston suffered a similar episode of king tide flooding, which hit much of the downtown area and medical district.


High tide brings flooding in downtown. Charleston.

The shoreline flanking Washington, D.C., was placed under a coastal flood advisory Monday as well, while in Queens, N.Y., water bubbled up out of street drains on submerged streets.

In Boston, minor splashover was forecast and did occur, but issues were minimal since high pressure overhead suppressed the surge. Localized flooding was also noted farther to the north in northern New England.


New record high tides have been set in #Miami on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday.

Supercharged tides because of sea-level rise

King tides are a natural phenomenon, but added to the background of rising seas, their impact and disruptive potential is growing exponentially. In Miami, for example, a roughly six-inch increase in sea level since 1996 has led to a twelvefold spike in action-tier flooding.

Sweet, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, noted that the sea level isn’t just rising — the rate of rise is accelerating.

Sea level rise is combining with other factors to regularly flood Miami

"In 2019, what we found was that 90 percent of the tide gauges that we analyzed on the East Coast or Gulf Coast had highest all-time sea levels,” Sweet said. “In many instances we were one or two inches higher than we were at the last record sea level. Sea levels are stacking up, and even when you have a garden variety [assortment] of processes, now it can mean flooding in the streets when the same phenomenon was happening [without flooding] 30 or 40 years ago.”

One of the challenges with communicating sea level rise is that the impacts associated with it are nonlinear. In other words, even if sea level were to rise at a constant rate, the amount of flooding coastal communities experience would jump far more quickly.


We're currently in the middle of a King Tide Window until Tuesday, October 20.

“At 75 percent of these East and Gulf Coast locations, [flooding is] now accelerating on an annual basis,” Sweet said. “That’s a very important notion to understand. And once infrastructure becomes compromised, once [those impacts are] noticed, the change is going to be quick rather than a slow process.”

It’s an issue already taking a toll on coastal communities, many of which are scrambling to plan for the future.

“As sea levels continue to rise, the flooding will become less storm surge flooding and more tidal flooding,” Sweet said. “Then it becomes an elevation game. Already communities are using data to see where they are exposed, and when they have opportunities to relocate critical infrastructure using the types of data we collect to make sound decisions.”

 
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mr peabody

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The United States is home to 95 million cattle, and changing what they eat could have a significant effect on emissions of greenhouse gases like methane
that are warming the world.

Belching cows and endless feedlots: Fixing cattle’s climate issues

By Henry Fountain | New York Times | 21 Oct 2020

HAPPY, Texas — Randy Shields looked out at a sea of cattle at the sprawling Wrangler Feedyard — 46,000 animals milling about in the dry Panhandle air as a feed truck swept by on its way to their pens.

Mr. Shields, who manages the yard for Cactus Feeders, knows that at its most basic, the business simply takes something that people can’t eat, and converts it into something they can: beef. That’s possible because cattle have a multichambered stomach where microbes ferment grass and other tough fibrous vegetation, making it digestible.

“The way I look at it, I’ve got 46,000 fermentation vats going out there,” Mr. Shields said.

But this process, called enteric fermentation, also produces methane, a potent planet-warming gas that the cattle mostly belch into the air. And with about 95 million cattle in the United States, including more than 25 million that are fattened for slaughter each year at feedlots, the methane adds up.

Researchers within and outside the industry are working on ways to reduce emissions from fermentation, through feed supplements or dietary changes. Other efforts aim to lower emissions from the animals’ waste — a source of methane as well as another powerful greenhouse gas, nitrous oxide — through improved manure storage and handling.

In the United States, cattle are far from the largest source of greenhouse gases, which include carbon dioxide, methane and others. Their total contribution is dwarfed by the burning of fossil fuels for electricity, transportation and industry. But livestock are among the largest sources of methane, which can have 80 times the heat-trapping power of carbon dioxide although it persists for less time.

Estimates vary, in part because animal emissions are more difficult to quantify than, say, flue gases at a power plant. But enteric fermentation by beef cattle accounts for nearly 2 percent of total emissions in the United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.


A dust cloud over the Bovina Cattle Company’s feed yard near Bovina, Texas.

Unlike fossil-fuel burning, which adds to warming by putting ancient carbon back into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide — where it traps the sun’s heat — cattle methane is part of a relatively short cycle. The methane results from eating vegetation that has grown by taking carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. After about a decade, the methane breaks down, forming carbon dioxide, which is used for more plant growth.

In effect, the animals are recycling carbon over a short time frame, so if the cattle population remains roughly the same, the contribution to warming remains about the same. “It’s leaving the atmosphere as fast as it’s coming,” said Alan Rotz, a researcher with the U.S. Department of Agriculture who has studied emissions from beef production.

The beef industry points out that, rather than remaining the same or increasing, the overall cattle population in the United States has declined by more than 25 percent since peaking in the 1970s, mostly because of efficiency improvements. But cattle populations are growing overseas, as nations become more affluent and beef consumption increases.

“For the U.S., we’re probably not adding methane to the atmosphere” from livestock, Dr. Rotz said. “But you add more methane as you add more animals, as we are doing globally.”

And even in the United States, with overall greenhouse gas emissions that are second only to China, making a dent in cattle emissions would have an effect.

Cargill Corporation, the food and agriculture giant that supplies feed to the beef industry, feedlots and others, is one of many companies doing research on substances that could be added to reduce methane emissions, said Heather Tansey, a director of sustainability at the company.

Cactus Feeders, which moves 1.1 million cattle a year through its 10 feedlots, designates about one-quarter of its pens at the Wrangler lot for studies on topics including the effects of dietary changes and ways to cut emissions from manure.

“There’s a need for work to be done in this area,” said Kenneth Casey, a scientist at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Amarillo, who was measuring the effects of rainfall on nitrous oxide emissions from manure in one of the Wrangler pens last month.



Jim Friemel, who with his wife, Melanie, owns and runs an independent feedlot in Hereford, Texas, that is half the size of Wrangler, doesn’t devote space to research. But he’s heard about melting ice sheets, rising sea levels and other accelerating effects of climate change, and would feed his 20,000 head of cattle a dietary supplement to reduce methane emissions if one were available at reasonable cost.

“Sure, I’d use it,” Mr. Friemel said, “if it would help stop the ice from melting.”

The emissions efforts are part of a broader push to make beef production more sustainable, including issues of water and land use. The work has taken on more urgency as the industry has come under pressure from environmentalists and others who say that to help conserve resources, the world must eat less meat.

In a report last year, for example, the EAT-Lancet Commission, an international group of scientists, recommended a 50 percent reduction in global consumption of red meat and some other foods by 2050.

In the United States, emissions have been affected by a major dietary change introduced decades ago. Feedlot cattle eat a diet in which corn or other high-energy grains account for up to about half the feed. This, plus reduced movement in the pens, helps the cattle fatten, producing the kind of well-marbled beef that consumers like. Studies have shown that a high-grain diet produces less methane.

But the microbes that break down corn are different from those that work on grass, so cattle have to be monitored carefully for bloat or other health problems. And farming of corn uses a lot of water, adding to concerns about resources.



Changes in the beef industry have reduced emissions in another, very basic, way: By spending time at a feedlot rather than grazing, cattle now reach their market weight much faster. They are alive, and belching methane, for a shorter time.

“Our system is exponentially more efficient than it was 40 years ago,” said John Richeson, a professor of agricultural business at West Texas A&M University in Canyon. Efficiency, he added, “directly impacts the carbon footprint.”

Paul Defoor, co-chief executive of Cactus Feeders, said that further reducing greenhouse gas emissions could make good business sense, because less of the carbon in feed would escape as methane and more would be used by the growing animal. “I want to capture all those carbons that I can,” Mr. Defoor said, “in the form of beef.”

The evidence of the industry’s transformation permeates the Texas Panhandle, where the dry conditions, relatively mild winters and not-too-hot summers have made it a center for cattle feeding.

Feedlots are the most obvious sign. Mr. Friemel’s yard, F-Troop Feeders, is one of several dozen in and around Hereford, which calls itself the beef capital of the world. Of Cactus Feeders’ 10 feedlots, seven are in the Panhandle, and the others are not far away in Southwestern Kansas.

There are other indications of the industrial scale of beef production here. Huge grain elevators, which store corn and other feed, dot the landscape, as do the large, windowless slaughterhouses, staffed largely by immigrant workers. Cattle trucks arrive there all day. Plants that make feed for the cattle receive ingredients by the trainload.

Even the corn ethanol industry has set up plants here, far from the Corn Belt, in large part because the waste from the process, called distiller’s grains, is sold by the truckload for cattle feed.



The industry’s transformation began with feedlots. The idea of penning cattle so they expend less energy, are easier to care for and can be fed a controlled diet was conceived a century ago. But it was not until the 1960s that the idea really took hold, with large-scale lots.

Before feedlots, beef cattle would graze year-round. But all the energy expended wandering, and the difficulties of winter feeding, when cattle at best could only maintain weight, made the process of fattening them take longer.

“Today when that growing season is over, those cattle can roll into here,” Mr. Defoor said. In about six months at a feedlot like Wrangler, a steer or heifer eats about 35 pounds of food a day (40 percent of which is moisture) and gains more than 3 pounds a day, reaching a typical market weight of more than 1,300 pounds.

Most cattle now graze only for a limited time, beginning as a calf. After about six months they are often sold to what is known as a stocker operation, where they graze on wheat or other grass crops. Typically after another six months or so, as yearlings, they move to a feedlot.

There are still some cattle that are fed on grass from start to finish (although even some meat labeled “grass fed” may have had a different diet toward the end). Because it takes longer, the animals live longer, and every additional day they are alive they are producing more methane.

Grass feeding is not as efficient, Mr. Richeson said. “You don’t get nearly the growth. It takes six months, nine months longer.”

The centerpiece of every feedlot is a mill, where the corn or other grains are steamed and rolled into flakes to improve digestibility. The grain is then mixed with other ingredients and delivered by trucks to troughs in the pens.

Mr. Friemel adds a lot of silage — fodder that is stored while still green — which he gets from nearby fields. One day last month, he was buying corn silage from a farmer whose crop had been damaged by hail. Trucks hauling the sweet-smelling mix of chopped-up stalks, leaves and ears arrived throughout the day. Mr. Friemel, operating a giant tractor, piled it up for storage.

Cactus Feeders uses silage, and adds other ingredients as well. Common ones include distiller’s grains from ethanol plants and a Cargill product called Sweet Bran that is a byproduct of making corn syrup.



But the company’s buyers scour the market for other products that the cattle can eat. Depending on price and availability, this can include things like lint residue from ginning cotton, or “yellow grease,” re-rendered oil from restaurant fryers.

“Thank goodness ruminants can use it, because otherwise I don’t know what we’d do with all this stuff,” Mr. Defoor said. In all, he said, even with the reliance on corn, 60 percent of what Cactus feeds to its cattle is inedible by people.

Feedlots also produce a lot of manure and urine — hundreds of thousands of pounds a day of waste at a typical lot like Wrangler. But the arid conditions, and trampling by the animals’ hooves, leaves a smooth, dry surface.

On hot summer days the manure can become too dry and dusty, and coupled with the Panhandle winds results in a “brown cloud” that can greatly affect air quality locally. While most of the methane emissions at a feedlot come directly from the cattle, manure also emits methane as well as nitrous oxide, which is an even more potent greenhouse gas.

Dr. Casey, the Texas A&M researcher, has studied emissions at the Wrangler yard and elsewhere for more than a decade, often collaborating with scientists from the Department of Agriculture.

On this day his equipment was measuring nitrous oxide emissions from the surface of an empty pen whose occupants had been shipped to a slaughterhouse days before. Nitrous oxide emissions spike after it rains, but the gas largely forms in the top inch of the manure, where it is less compact.

“We’re looking at mitigation strategies,” Dr. Casey said. “What could a manager potentially do to reduce emissions?”

His research suggests one possibility — scraping off the top layer of manure if rain is in the forecast. But that might not be feasible across the hundreds of acres of a feedlot. And it may lead to another problem: more methane emissions from the compact layer underneath.

“That’s the issue,” Dr. Casey said. “In trying to control one thing, you’re making the other worse.”

 
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mr peabody

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Solar-powered atmospheric water generator

PV Magazine | 12 Nov 2020

Spain’s GFM says its new system can produce 500 liters of water per day. It claims it is a low-cost way to improve access to electricity and drinking water in remote areas.

Spanish solar company Generaciones Fotovoltaicas de la Mancha (GFM) has developed the Watenergy Project, an off-grid, portable system that produces electricity and drinking water.

A number of technologies, including the use of desiccants, can produce condensation by lowering the temperature below its dew point. But the condensers that are currently on the market need electrical energy to operate, which makes them tough to install in parts of the world in which more water is needed.

Watenergy is a low-cost system that provides access to electricity and drinking water. It is also designed to provide emergency supplies in the event of a natural disaster. It is based on a standalone PV system, a portable container, and monitoring platform. The PV system consists of solar panels, inverters, and lithium batteries (LiFePO4).

It is embedded in a 20-foot portable container and is equipped with an intelligent load management platform. It is designed to operate the water-producing system based on ambient temperature, humidity, and incident solar radiation. Some of the electricity that is generated is used for a machine that captures humidity to supply 500 liters of water per day.

The European Regional Development Fund has supported the project. Previously, GFM developed the Julia portable system, the Suninbox platform, and a number of plug-and-play portable systems designed to provide smart grid services in remote areas.

 
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mr peabody

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The Hendershot Electromagnetic Generator DIY kit

Here is a list of all the parts available in the "Do It Yourself " kit so that you can make your very own Hendershot Generator.

Each "DIY" kit includes:

- The Hendershot Generator Blueprints & Quick start Guide (PDF Files Downloaded off of Website)
- .5 hour step by step video (Download from website or watch on youtube)
- One piece of copper enameled wire, 50 meters long, 0.95 mm in diameter
- Four pieces of copper PVC insulated copper wire, 9 meters long, 1.5mm in diameter (2 different color insulation)
- 120 skew sticks, 1/8" in diameter
- 2 unpolarized capacitors - 500 micro Farads each
- 4 unpolarized capacitors - 1000 micro Farads each
- 2 transformers 1:5 ratio for 110 / 220 Volts
- One piece of copper PVC insulated copper wire, 10 meters long, 1 mm in diameter
- One surface applicable 110 volts socket - US & Canada Only
- Two furniture drawer rails (the version with bearings)
- Two cylindrical iron bars, 1/2" in diameter, 3" long
- One rectangular iron bar, 4" long x 1" x 1/8"
- One very powerful neodymium magnet (cylindrical) 1" x 1" x 4" long


HISTORY

On February 28, 1928, a man named Lester J. Hendershot made front-page headlines across the nation with his invention of his "fuel less motor." Hendershot managed to develop power with his device by cutting the earth's magnetic field like a normal generator cuts its own magnetic field. Not claiming his device to be a perpetuum mobile, Hendershot explained that it was tapping into the earth's magnetic field and rotation as its energy source.

The Hendershot Devise is a self-acting oscillator. It consists of a pair of large air-core coils in "basket weave" format, hand-made cylindrical capacitors inside the coils, several high-value capacitors, a couple of standard transformers and a permanent-magnet "buzzer" as a regulator. The two large coils are tuned to resonate together. The devise generates an AC output and can light a bank of light bulbs.

Hendershot's machine was not actually a motor, but a generator. It developed electricity which could power another motor but did not produce any usable motion itself. The idea for the generator first came to him in a dream in his early twenties. He forgot the idea for several years and was motivated to start working on it to replace the broken motor in his child's toy airplane.


Lester Hendershot

The Hendershot Generator (HG) is actually not your typical generator that we are normally accustomed to. Although it might seem to be because when properly tuned the HG can generate electrical power but the power or electricity as we know it is actually a by-product of the HG and not actually what the HG technically does. You see the HG is really more or less a highly sensitive antenna that picks up electromagnetic frequencies. That's right it's actually a receiver just like the one in your transistor radio that when properly tuned can pick up one of the hundred's of radio frequencies that surround us even though we can't see them. The HG is an antenna that receives atmospheric electrical frequencies AKA: Electrostatics that are all around us.

Remember when you were a kid and you would rub your feet on the carpet and shock someone by touching them? That's because there are millions of atmospheric electromagnetic particles (AKA: static electricity) floating all around us even though we can't see them. What the HG does is pick up those micro electromagnetic electrical frequencies and then they are converted to low voltage that is then amplified to 60 cycles per second or also know as 110 volts of electricity.



I'm not sure why so many people have a problem with this concept when it naturally occurs around us all the time. Think about a radio, what does it actually do? It picks up radio waves out of the air and converts them into sound waves that can then be amplified so that you and the people across the street from you can hear your music even though they hate your choice of music.

So why can't the static electricity that is all around us be picked up and converted into low voltage and then amplified to a higher voltage?

I remember back in the 80's when I was selling and installing satellite systems for people who wanted to get rid of their cable company. You see the cable companies had a monopoly and people were tired of paying for expensive and lousy service. I would explain to my potential clients that the satellites were in a geostationary orbit (AKA:Clark Belt) that was located 22,236 miles above the equator. At the time the satellites were sending down a signal across the continent that was only 4 watts, strong enough to power a small flashlight. Once this signal was captured into the satellite dish it was then reflected into a focal point where the signal was then amplified through a Low-Noise Amplifier (LNA). Once amplified the signal had to be sent to a converter where it was convert so that it could then be sent to your satellite receiver where it could then be watched on your television set.

The process although very complex is how we are able to watch a TV program that is being filmed live in New York and being watched 3,000 miles away in your living room in Sunny California.

Ok, so back to understanding the Hendershot Generator, it's this very same concept that Lester J. Hendershot stumbled upon when he was trying to invent a new compass. He found that like a magnet there was some sort invisible electromagnetic energy field on the earth that was pulling towards the north pole. He then set out to figure out a way to tune into this electromagnetic energy field with the hopes of somehow converting this energy and then amplifying it so that it could be used as electrical power we now know as electricity.



As you can see from the photo of the original Herdershot Generator, it looks somewhat like an old radio frequency receiver.

Here comes the real problem, once Lester Herdershot figures out how to tap into this never ending abundance of invisible electromagnetic static electricity how do you charge people for it? How can the government charge a Tax on it or how can Big Business turn it off if you decide to stop paying for the device? These were all the concerns that the government and big business had so, instead of tapping into a free source of energy lets just tell everyone that the "Hendershot Generator" is just a hoax and convince everyone that it can't be made, and that it's really just one big scam!

This website is here to help promote the concept of "Free Energy" and to get the word out that the Hendershot Electromagnetic Receiver (AKA: Hendershot Generator) is for real and that it can actually tune into the Electromagnetic Atmospheric Electricity thereby converting these Micro Electrical Frequencies into Low Voltage and then amplifying then into High Voltage that can be used to power a car, a house, a town or even an entire nation.

 
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mr peabody

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Geoengineering won't stop global warming if greenhouse gasses continue to increase

by Bob Yirka | Phys.org | 17 Nov 2020

A trio of researchers, two with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the other the California Institute of Technology, developed computer simulations suggesting that using geoengineering to cool the planet would not be enough to overcome greenhouse effects if emissions continue at the current rate. Tapio Schneider, Colleen Kaul and Kyle Pressel have published their results in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

As scientists have become frustrated with the lack of progress toward greenhouse gas emission reductions, some are championing other ways to save the planet. One approach involves geoengineering—altering the Earth to solve a problem. Geoengineering to reduce global warming would involve emitting particulate material into the stratosphere to reflect heat from the sun back into space. Ideas for such an effort involve releasing reflective particles into the stratosphere where they would surround much of the Earth, reflecting back heat and cooling the planet. The idea is based on prior research demonstrating that parts of the Earth become cooler after volcanic eruptions due to ash spewed into the atmosphere. It has not been tested in the real world, and some researchers suggest there could be significant unforeseen side-effects. Additionally, the same technology could, in theory, be used as a weapon. In this new effort, the researchers built a computer simulation to determine whether such an approach would work.

They found that geoengineering could work, but only up to a certain point. If greenhouse gasses are not curbed, they will rise to levels that would have a negative impact on stratocumulus clouds, making them thin, and in some cases, eliminating them. Without this cloud cover, even the introduction of particles into the atmosphere would not be enough to prevent global warming. They suggest that geoengineering would not be a solution that some have proposed if levels of greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced.

 
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Electrolyzing saline water to generate hydrogen*

by Ingrid Fadelli | Phys.org | 27 Feb 2020

Solar-powered technology, such as photovoltaics (PVs), could address some of the environmental challenges of our times, enabling the sustainable production of electrical energy in many geographical areas, including arid or desert regions. Many arid regions are located near an ocean or sea, yet they are typically affected by a scarcity of clean and fresh water.

A scarcity of highly purified water, which is required to power most existing electrolyzers, makes storing intermittent solar electricity particularly problematic. Electrolyzers are technological tools that can separate water, typically purified water, into hydrogen and oxygen, through the use of an anode and a cathode.

To enable the use of solar and hydrogen-based technology in regions with a lack of available clean fresh water, researchers have been trying to develop electolyzers that can split saline or impure water directly, without the need prior purification. Hydrogen produced using these electrolyzers could then also be shipped around the world, facilitating the shift toward a hydrogen-based energy infrastructure.

In a paper published in Nature Energy, researchers at the National University of Ireland Galway, the University of Liverpool and Technical University Berlin have conducted a review of recent advancements in materials and catalysts that could enable electrolysis with low-grade or saline water. Their study also outlines some of the key challenges associated with designing these electrolyzers, highlighting approaches that could help to overcome these issues.

"We are now seeing the first potential opportunities regarding the value of saline water electrolysis, with hydrogen from Australia being shipped to Japan," Peter Strasser, one of the researchers who carried out the study, told TechXplore. "Australian hydrogen can be generated using solar electricity from desert areas, where fresh water is rare and precious. Another case for electrolysis of saline waters arises from offshore wind parks all over Europe, where one can generate on site hydrogen which can be piped on shore or used in refueling stations offshore for water vehicles of all kinds."

In their paper, Strasser and his colleagues examined all scientific studies that succeeded in electrolyzing saline water, focusing on those employing catalyst materials. Their review specifically examined physical principles behind the functioning of electrolyzers proposed in the past, which often differed and yet brought about the same end result, as well as device stability and energy efficiency.

The review conducted by Strasser and his colleagues also highlights some of the challenges that need to be overcome before the electrolysis of impure and saline water becomes viable. This includes the design and use of suitable membranes, as most existing membrane technologies may be unable to block impurities.

"If we think this through at the global scale, using fresh water to generate hydrogen is no longer a feasible option, at least in arid areas where most of the cheap solar electricity is produced," Strasser said. "We showed that the research direction of designing new selective catalysts (but also other materials components like membranes) for high performance seawater electrolyzers is a very important one, and it deserves more attention."

Overall, Strasser and his colleagues suggest that researchers trying to develop electrolyzers that can split saline or impure water should try to identify new catalyst materials that are applicable to the wide variety of seawater compositions present on Earth. Their paper provides valuable insight that could inform the study and development of innovative electrolyzer technologies.

The researchers believe that fresh water is the most valuable resource on Earth, and its value is only likely to increase in the future due to droughts, floods and other detrimental effects of climate change. In years to come, water could be of vital importance both for the survival of all life on Earth and for the sustainable production of electrical energy. Electrolyzers that can split saline or impure water into oxygen and hydrogen without requiring prior purification processes could thus play a key role in facilitating the shift toward a new, more sustainable, energy infrastructure.

"We are currently working on developing seawater electrolyzers together with several international companies specialized in this field," Strasser said. "The general idea is to help these companies to become leaders in this technology."

*From the article here:
 
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A rendering of Sparc, a nuclear fusion reactor currently under development.

Is nuclear fusion the answer to the climate crisis?

by Oscar Schwartz | The Guardian | 28 Dec 2020

Promising new studies suggest the long elusive technology may be capable of producing electricity for the grid by the end of the decade

If all goes as planned, the US will eliminate all greenhouse gas emissions from its electricity sector by 2035 – an ambitious goal set by President-elect Joe Biden, relying in large part on a sharp increase in wind and solar energy generation. That plan may soon get a boost from nuclear fusion, a powerful technology that until recently had seemed far out of reach.

Researchers developing a nuclear fusion reactor that can generate more energy than it consumes have shown in a series of recent papers that their design should work, restoring optimism that this clean, limitless power source will help mitigate the climate crisis.

While the new reactor still remains in early development, scientists hope it will be able to start producing electricity by the end of the decade. Martin Greenwald, one of the project’s senior scientists, said a key motivation for the ambitious timeline is meeting energy requirements in a warming world. “Fusion seems like one of the possible solutions to get ourselves out of our impending climate disaster,” he said.

Nuclear fusion, the physical process that powers our sun, occurs when atoms are pushed together at extremely high temperatures and pressure, causing them to release tremendous amounts of energy by merging into heavier atoms.

Since it was first discovered last century, scientists have sought to harness fusion, an extremely dense form of power whose fuel – hydrogen isotopes – are abundant and replenishable. Moreover, fusion produces no greenhouse gases or carbon, and unlike fission nuclear reactors, carries no risk of meltdown.
"Fusion seems like one of the possible solutions to get ourselves out of our impending climate disaster." - Martin Greenwald

Harnessing this form of nuclear power, though, has proven extremely difficult, requiring heating a soup of subatomic particles, called plasma, to hundreds of millions of degrees – far too hot for any material container to withstand. To work around this, scientists developed a donut-shaped chamber with a strong magnetic field running through it, called a tokamak, which suspends the plasma in place.

MIT scientists and a spinoff company, Commonwealth Fusion Systems, began designing the new reactor, which is more compact than its predecessors, in early 2018, and will start construction in the first half of next year. If their timeline goes as planned, the reactor, called Sparc, will be capable of producing electricity for the grid by 2030, according to researchers and company officials. This would be far faster than existing major fusion power initiatives.

Existing reactor designs are too large and expensive to realistically generate electricity for consumers. Through the use of cutting-edge, ultra-strong magnets, the team at MIT and Commonwealth Fusion hope to make a tokamak reactor that is compact, efficient and scalable. “What we’ve really done is combine an existing science with new material to open up vast new possibilities,” Greenwald said.

Having demonstrated that the Sparc device can theoretically produce more energy than it requires to run in the research papers published in September, the next step involves building the reactor, followed by a pilot plant that will generate electricity onto the grid.

Scientists and entrepreneurs have long made promises about fusion being just around the corner, only to encounter insurmountable problems. This has created reluctance to invest in it, particularly as wind, solar and other renewables — although less powerful than fusion — have become more efficient and cost effective.

But the tide is changing. In Biden’s $2tn plan, he named advanced nuclear technologies as part of the decarbonization strategy, the first time the Democrats have endorsed nuclear energy since 1972. There is also significant investment coming from private sources, including some major oil and gas companies, who see fusion as a better long term pivot than wind and solar.

According to Bob Mumgaard, chief executive of Commonwealth Fusion, the aim is not to use fusion to replace solar and wind, but to supplement them. “There are things that will be hard to do with only renewables, industrial scale things, like powering large cities or manufacturing,” he said. “This is where fusion can come in.”

The plasma science community is generally enthusiastic about Sparc’s progress, though some question the ambitious timeline, given engineering and regulatory hurdles.
Daniel Jassby, who worked as a research scientist at the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab for 25 years, is skeptical about whether a fusion reactor like SPARC will ever provide a feasible alternative source of energy. Tritium, one of the hydrogen isotopes that will be used as fuel by Sparc, is not naturally occurring and will need to be produced, he said.

The team at MIT propose that this substance will be regenerated continuously by the fusion reaction itself. But Jassby believes that this will require a huge amount of electricity, which will make the reactor prohibitively expensive. “When you consider we get solar and wind energy for free, to rely on fusion reaction would be foolish,” he said.

Mumgaard concedes that the challenges that lie ahead are daunting. But he remains confident.

“There is a broader trend in acknowledging how important climate is and that we need all hands on deck,” he said. “We got into this problem with technology, but with fusion there are big opportunities to solve this with technology.”

 
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Utrecht, Netherlands: Planning for People & Bikes, Not for Cars


Though already a very good city for bicycling, in recent years Utrecht has decided to go a step further and reduce the number of cars in the city's center. How? Eliminating roadways, reaching nearly 33K bike parking spots downtown, making transition to get to the train easier and safer for people bicycling in their new bike parking facility and hosts of other ways.
 

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The bushmeat trade.

Is our destruction of nature responsible for Covid-19?

by John Vidal | The Guardian | 18 Mar 2020

As habitat and biodiversity loss increase globally, the coronavirus outbreak may be just the beginning of mass pandemics.

Mayibout 2 is not a healthy place. The 150 or so people who live in the village, deep in the great Minkebe Forest in northern Gabon, are used to occasional bouts of diseases such as malaria, dengue, yellow fever and sleeping sickness. Mostly they shrug them off.

But in January 1996, Ebola, a deadly virus then barely known to humans, unexpectedly spilled out of the forest in a wave of small epidemics. The disease killed 21 of 37 villagers who were reported to have been infected, including a number who had carried, skinned, chopped or eaten a chimpanzee from the nearby forest.

I travelled to Mayibout 2 in 2004 to investigate why deadly diseases new to humans were emerging from biodiversity “hotspots” such as tropical rainforests and bushmeat markets in African and Asian cities.

It took a day by canoe and then many hours along degraded forest logging roads, passing Baka villages and a small goldmine, to reach the village. There, I found traumatised people still fearful that the deadly virus, which kills up to 90% of the people it infects, would return.

Villagers told me how children had gone into the forest with dogs that had killed the chimp. They said that everyone who cooked or ate it got a terrible fever within a few hours. Some died immediately, while others were taken down the river to hospital. A few, like Nesto Bematsick, recovered. “We used to love the forest, now we fear it,” he told me. Many of Bematsick’s family members died.

Only a decade or two ago it was widely thought that tropical forests and intact natural environments teeming with exotic wildlife threatened humans by harbouring the viruses and pathogens that lead to new diseases in humans such as Ebola, HIV and dengue.

But a number of researchers today think that it is actually humanity’s destruction of biodiversity that creates the conditions for new viruses and diseases such as Covid-19, the viral disease that emerged in China in December 2019, to arise – with profound health and economic impacts in rich and poor countries alike. In fact, a new discipline, planetary health, is emerging that focuses on the increasingly visible connections between the wellbeing of humans, other living things and entire ecosystems.

Is it possible, then, that it was human activity, such as road building, mining, hunting and logging, that triggered the Ebola epidemics in Mayibout 2 and elsewhere in the 1990s and that is unleashing new terrors today?

“We invade tropical forests and other wild landscapes, which harbour so many species of animals and plants – and within those creatures, so many unknown viruses,” David Quammen, author of Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Pandemic, recently wrote in the New York Times. “We cut the trees; we kill the animals or cage them and send them to markets. We disrupt ecosystems, and we shake viruses loose from their natural hosts. When that happens, they need a new host. Often, we are it.”


Bats are trapped in nets to be examined for possible viral load in Gabon.

Increasing threat

Research suggests that outbreaks of animal-borne and other infectious diseases such as Ebola, Sars, bird flu and now Covid-19, caused by a novel coronavirus, are on the rise. Pathogens are crossing from animals to humans, and many are able to spread quickly to new places. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that three-quarters of new or emerging diseases that infect humans originate in animals.

Some, like rabies and plague, crossed from animals centuries ago. Others, such as Marburg, which is thought to be transmitted by bats, are still rare. A few, like Covid-19, which emerged last year in Wuhan, China, and Mers, which is linked to camels in the Middle East, are new to humans and spreading globally.

Other diseases that have crossed into humans include Lassa fever, which was first identified in 1969 in Nigeria; Nipah from Malaysia; and Sars from China, which killed more than 700 people and travelled to 30 countries in 2002–03. Some, like Zika and West Nile virus, which emerged in Africa, have mutated and become established on other continents.

Kate Jones, chair of ecology and biodiversity at UCL, calls emerging animal-borne infectious diseases an “increasing and very significant threat to global health, security and economies.”

Amplification effect

In 2008, Jones and a team of researchers identified 335 diseases that emerged between 1960 and 2004, at least 60% of which came from animals.

Increasingly, says Jones, these zoonotic diseases are linked to environmental change and human behaviour. "The disruption of pristine forests driven by logging, mining, road building through remote places, rapid urbanisation and population growth is bringing people into closer contact with animal species they may never have been near before," she says.

The resulting transmission of disease from wildlife to humans, she says, is now “a hidden cost of human economic development. There are just so many more of us, in every environment. We are going into largely undisturbed places and being exposed more and more. We are creating habitats where viruses are transmitted more easily, and then we are surprised that we have new ones.”

Jones studies how changes in land use contribute to the risk. “We are researching how species in degraded habitats are likely to carry more viruses which can infect humans,” she says. “Simpler systems get an amplification effect. Destroy landscapes, and the species you are left with are the ones humans get the diseases from.”

“There are countless pathogens out there continuing to evolve which at some point could pose a threat to humans,”
says Eric Fevre, chair of veterinary infectious diseases at the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Infection and Global Health. “The risk [of pathogens jumping from animals to humans] has always been there.”

The difference between now and a few decades ago, Fevre says, is that diseases are likely to spring up in both urban and natural environments. “We have created densely packed populations where alongside us are bats and rodents and birds, pets and other living things. That creates intense interaction and opportunities for things to move from species to species,” he says.


The disruption of pristine forests driven by logging, mining, road building, rapid urbanisation
and population growth is bringing people into closer contact with wildlife, increasing the risk
of disease.


Tip of the iceberg

“Pathogens do not respect species boundaries,” says disease ecologist Thomas Gillespie, an associate professor in Emory University’s department of environmental sciences, who studies how shrinking natural habitats and changing behaviour add to the risk of diseases spilling over from animals to humans.

“I am not at all surprised about the coronavirus outbreak,” he says. “The majority of pathogens are still to be discovered. We are at the very tip of the iceberg.”

Humans, says Gillespie, are creating the conditions for the spread of diseases by reducing the natural barriers between host animals – in which the virus is naturally circulating – and themselves. “We fully expect the arrival of pandemic influenza; we can expect large-scale human mortalities; we can expect other pathogens with other impacts. A disease like Ebola is not easily spread. But something with a mortality rate of Ebola spread by something like measles would be catastrophic,” Gillespie says.

Wildlife everywhere is being put under more stress, he says. “Major landscape changes are causing animals to lose habitats, which means species become crowded together and also come into greater contact with humans. Species that survive change are now moving and mixing with different animals and with humans.”

Gillespie sees this in the US, where suburbs fragment forests and raise the risk of humans contracting Lyme disease. “Altering the ecosystem affects the complex cycle of the Lyme pathogen. People living close by are more likely to get bitten by a tick carrying Lyme bacteria,” he says.

Yet human health research seldom considers the surrounding natural ecosystems, says Richard Ostfeld, distinguished senior scientist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York. He and others are developing the emerging discipline of planetary health, which looks at the links between human and ecosystem health.

“There’s misapprehension among scientists and the public that natural ecosystems are the source of threats to ourselves. It’s a mistake. Nature poses threats, it is true, but it’s human activities that do the real damage. The health risks in a natural environment can be made much worse when we interfere with it,” he says.

Ostfeld points to rats and bats, which are strongly linked with the direct and indirect spread of zoonotic diseases. “Rodents and some bats thrive when we disrupt natural habitats. They are the most likely to promote transmissions [of pathogens]. The more we disturb the forests and habitats the more danger we are in,” he says.

Felicia Keesing, professor of biology at Bard College, New York, studies how environmental changes influence the probability that humans will be exposed to infectious diseases. “When we erode biodiversity, we see a proliferation of the species most likely to transmit new diseases to us, but there’s also good evidence that those same species are the best hosts for existing diseases,” she wrote in an email to Ensia, the nonprofit media outlet that reports on our changing planet.


Dead pangolins seized by authorities in North Sumatra. Disease ecologists argue that viruses
and other pathogens are likely to move from animals to humans in wildlife markets.


The market connection

Disease ecologists argue that viruses and other pathogens are also likely to move from animals to humans in the many informal markets that have sprung up to provide fresh meat to fast-growing urban populations around the world. Here, animals are slaughtered, cut up and sold on the spot.

The “wet market” (one that sells fresh produce and meat) in Wuhan, thought by the Chinese government to be the starting point of the current Covid-19 pandemic, was known to sell numerous wild animals, including live wolf pups, salamanders, crocodiles, scorpions, rats, squirrels, foxes, civets and turtles.'

Equally, urban markets in west and central Africa sell monkeys, bats, rats, and dozens of species of bird, mammal, insect and rodent slaughtered and sold close to open refuse dumps and with no drainage.

“Wet markets make a perfect storm for cross-species transmission of pathogens,” says Gillespie. “Whenever you have novel interactions with a range of species in one place, whether that is in a natural environment like a forest or a wet market, you can have a spillover event.”

The Wuhan market, along with others that sell live animals, has been shut by the Chinese authorities, and last month Beijing outlawed the trading and eating of wild animals except for fish and seafood. But bans on live animals being sold in urban areas or informal markets are not the answer, say some scientists.

“The wet market in Lagos is notorious. It’s like a nuclear bomb waiting to happen. But it’s not fair to demonise places which do not have fridges. These traditional markets provide much of the food for Africa and Asia,” says Jones.

“These markets are essential sources of food for hundreds of millions of poor people, and getting rid of them is impossible,” says Delia Grace, a senior epidemiologist and veterinarian with the International Livestock Research Institute, which is based in Nairobi, Kenya. She argues that bans force traders underground, where they may pay less attention to hygiene.


A bushmeat stall with pangolins, bush rats and tiger cats for sale on the roadside outside Bata
in Equatorial Guinea.


Fevre and colleague Cecilia Tacoli, principal researcher in the human settlements research group at the International Institute of Environment and Development (IIED), argue in a blog post that rather than pointing the finger at wet markets, we should look at the burgeoning trade in wild animals.

“It is wild animals rather than farmed animals that are the natural hosts of many viruses,” they write. “Wet markets are considered part of the informal food trade that is often blamed for contributing to spreading disease. But … evidence shows the link between informal markets and disease is not always so clear cut.”

Changing behaviour

So what, if anything, can we do about all of this?

Jones says that change must come from both rich and poor societies. Demand for wood, minerals and resources from the global north leads to the degraded landscapes and ecological disruption that drives disease, she says. “We must think about global biosecurity, find the weak points and bolster the provision of health care in developing countries. Otherwise we can expect more of the same,” she adds.

“The risks are greater now. They were always present and have been there for generations. It is our interactions with that risk which must be changed,” says Brian Bird, a research virologist at the University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine One Health Institute, where he leads Ebola-related surveillance activities in Sierra Leone and elsewhere.

“We are in an era now of chronic emergency,” Bird says. “Diseases are more likely to travel further and faster than before, which means we must be faster in our responses. It needs investments, change in human behaviour, and it means we must listen to people at community levels.”


A poster in Beijing promoting wildlife as friends instead of food, after a crackdown on
wild animal markets following the coronavirus outbreak.


Getting the message about pathogens and disease to hunters, loggers, market traders and consumers is key, Bird says. “These spillovers start with one or two people. The solutions start with education and awareness. We must make people aware things are different now. I have learned from working in Sierra Leone with Ebola-affected people that local communities have the hunger and desire to have information,” he says. “They want to know what to do. They want to learn.”

Fevre and Tacoli advocate rethinking urban infrastructure, particularly within low-income and informal settlements. “Short-term efforts are focused on containing the spread of infection,” they write. “The longer term – given that new infectious diseases will likely continue to spread rapidly into and within cities – calls for an overhaul of current approaches to urban planning and development.”

The bottom line, Bird says, is to be prepared. “We can’t predict where the next pandemic will come from, so we need mitigation plans to take into account the worst possible scenarios,” he says. “The only certain thing is that the next one will certainly come.”

 
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The future of chemical recycling: Turning single use plastics into virgin-quality materials*

by Ben Pilkington, MSt. | AZO Materials | 23 Dec 2020

The UK government has recently granted £3.1 m to a joint project developing advanced chemical recycling for plastics to produce virgin-quality materials from low-quality plastic waste. Recycling Technologies, a growing UK-based advanced recycling company, is in partnership with industry giants Neste and Unilever to create virgin-quality plastic with chemical recycling.

Virgin-quality materials from low-quality waste

Despite decades of government and special interest programs, funding, and changing social attitudes towards the environment, plastic products are still consumed and disposed of in vast quantities. Only 30% of plastic waste in Europe is recycled according to the latest figures, and this issue is undoubtedly worse in less developed economies.

A significant factor in this problem is quality – both the quality of plastic waste to be recycled and the quality of recycled plastic products.

Plastic waste can be divided into three broad categories depending on recycling potential and processes.

Positive-value plastic waste can be easily processed and recycled for profit, and items such as large drinks bottles and broken toys fit into this category.

The majority of recycled plastic feedstocks come from this kind of plastic waste and are processed mechanically. However, this type of recycled plastic is not a high enough quality for many applications, as it is typically used in cable ties and piping.

Neutral-value plastic waste cannot easily be processed for profit, but it could be if certain market factors allow it. Smaller drinks bottles and heavier food packaging fit into this category. The majority of waste in this category is exported to countries with cheaper labor and energy costs. However, China's recent move to limit this kind of waste import has significantly restricted the recycling of these kinds of plastic waste items.

Finally, negative-value plastic waste is too expensive to recycle into other products for profit. This includes plastic films, single-use sachets, and pouches predominantly used in food packaging. These items are challenging and too costly to process and recycle using traditional mechanical processing systems.

Whenever plastic waste cannot be recycled for economic, logistical, or technical reasons, it is either incinerated, exported, or sent to landfill sites. Chemical recycling could help to solve this problem by making more plastic waste recyclable.

Can chemical recycling for plastics solve the quality problem?

Chemical recycling – also referred to as advanced recycling – can uniquely recycle low-quality, negative-value plastic waste items into virgin-quality plastic feedstock for new applications.

Traditional recycling methods use mechanical techniques to process and recycle waste plastics. Industrial machines mechanically sort plastics by weight and size, automating the selection of positive-value waste items for further production.

On the other hand, chemical recycling uses various chemical processes to process and sort plastic waste and recycle it into usable virgin-quality material.

There are numerous chemical recycling techniques, but most rely on some combination of distilling waste material in a reactive chemical and heating it without incinerating it.

As consumer attitudes towards the environment become increasingly important for large corporations, many made promises to reduce their environmental impact wherever possible. Some of the world’s largest corporations have now invested in chemical research.

Positive outlook for chemical recycling for plastics

The UK government grant – made through UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) who direct funds from the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy – is key to speeding up chemical recycling methods and technologies.

The funds will primarily be used by Recycling Technologies to complete their chemical recycling plant in Perthshire, Scotland. Recycling Technologies is already producing a virgin-quality plastic feedstock from recycled materials, referred to as Plaxx oil.

Neste will work alongside Recycling Technologies to ensure its facilities and methods are world-class. Neste has extensive experience in recycling low-quality waste to produce virgin-quality materials and a body of research that Recycling Technologies will access. It is committed to creating virgin-quality materials from waste, and there are several other partnerships with this aim.

Unilever – a global corporation that produces a significant share of the world’s plastic packaging – is joining the established partnership between Recycling Technologies and Unilever to consult on product design and the circular economy.

As well as developing facilities and methods to further chemical recycling for plastics, the grant from UK taxpayers also prioritizes the development and demonstration of added-value applications for virgin-quality plastic made from waste with chemical recycling.

The circular economy and virgin-quality materials

The success of this joint project could significantly speed up progress towards a so-called “circular economy”. This is a state of affairs in which nothing is wasted, but all packaging and disposable items are returned to manufacturers for recycling.

Chemical recycling may be the key to unlocking more waste to fit into this economy.

As millions of plastic waste tons continue to be discarded, incinerated, buried, or exported at alarming rates every year, any step forward is certainly welcome.


*From the article here :
 
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Smoke and flames rise from an illegally lit fire in the Amazon rainforest reserve, south of Novo Progresso in Para state, Brazil.

Top scientists warn of mass extinction*

by Phoebe Weston | The Guardian | 13 Jan 2021

A sobering new report says world is failing to grasp the extent of threats posed by biodiversity loss and the climate crisis

The planet is facing a “ghastly future of mass extinction, declining health and climate-disruption upheavals” that threaten human survival because of ignorance and inaction, according to an international group of scientists, who warn people still haven’t grasped the urgency of the biodiversity and climate crises.

The 17 experts, including Prof Paul Ehrlich from Stanford University, author of The Population Bomb, and scientists from Mexico, Australia and the US, say the planet is in a much worse state than most people – even scientists – understood.

“The scale of the threats to the biosphere and all its lifeforms – including humanity – is in fact so great that it is difficult to grasp for even well-informed experts,” they write in a report in Frontiers in Conservation Science which references more than 150 studies detailing the world’s major environmental challenges.

The delay between destruction of the natural world and the impacts of these actions means people do not recognise how vast the problem is, the paper argues. “The mainstream is having difficulty grasping the magnitude of this loss, despite the steady erosion of the fabric of human civilisation.”

The report warns that climate-induced mass migrations, more pandemics and conflicts over resources will be inevitable unless urgent action is taken.

“Ours is not a call to surrender – we aim to provide leaders with a realistic ‘cold shower’ of the state of the planet that is essential for planning to avoid a ghastly future,” it adds.

Dealing with the enormity of the problem requires far-reaching changes to global capitalism, education and equality, the paper says. These include abolishing the idea of perpetual economic growth, properly pricing environmental externalities, stopping the use of fossil fuels, reining in corporate lobbying, and empowering women, the researchers argue.

The report comes months after the world failed to meet a single UN Aichi biodiversity target, created to stem the destruction of the natural world, the second consecutive time governments have failed to meet their 10-year biodiversity goals. This week a coalition of more than 50 countries pledged to protect almost a third of the planet by 2030.


A coral reef dominated by algae in Seychelles ... the climate crisis is changing the composition of ecosystems.

An estimated one million species are at risk of extinction, many within decades, according to a recent UN report.

“Environmental deterioration is infinitely more threatening to civilisation than Trumpism or Covid-19,” Ehrlich told the Guardian.

In The Population Bomb, published in 1968, Ehrlich warned of imminent population explosion and hundreds of millions of people starving to death. Although he has acknowledged some timings were wrong, he has said he stands by its fundamental message that population growth and high levels of consumption by wealthy nations is driving destruction.

He told the Guardian: “Growthmania is the fatal disease of civilisation - it must be replaced by campaigns that make equity and well-being society’s goals - not consuming more junk.”

Large populations and their continued growth drive soil degradation and biodiversity loss, the new paper warns. “More people means that more synthetic compounds and dangerous throwaway plastics are manufactured, many of which add to the growing toxification of the Earth. It also increases the chances of pandemics that fuel ever-more desperate hunts for scarce resources.”

The effects of the climate emergency are more evident than biodiversity loss, but still, society is failing to cut emissions, the paper argues. If people understood the magnitude of the crises, changes in politics and policies could match the gravity of the threat.

“Our main point is that once you realise the scale and imminence of the problem, it becomes clear that we need much more than individual actions like using less plastic, eating less meat, or flying less. Our point is that we need big systematic changes and fast,” Professor Daniel Blumstein from the University of California Los Angeles, who helped write the paper, told the Guardian.


Australia saw a devastating bushfire season in 2020.

The report follows years of stark warnings about the state of the planet from the world’s leading scientists, including a statement by 11,000 scientists in 2019 that people will face “untold suffering due to the climate crisis” unless major changes are made. In 2016, more than 150 of Australia’s climate scientists wrote an open letter to the then prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, demanding immediate action on reducing emissions. In the same year, 375 scientists – including 30 Nobel prize winners – wrote an open letter to the world about their frustrations over political inaction on climate change.

Prof Tom Oliver, an ecologist at the University of Reading, who was not involved in the report, said it was a frightening but credible summary of the grave threats society faces under a “business as usual” scenario. “Scientists now need to go beyond simply documenting environmental decline, and instead find the most effective ways to catalyse action,” he said.

Prof Rob Brooker, head of ecological sciences at the James Hutton Institute, said it clearly emphasised the pressing nature of the challenges.

“We certainly should not be in any doubt about the huge scale of the challenges we are facing and the changes we will need to make to deal with them,” he said.

*From the article here :
 
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Pin-Up Houses says the materials and labor for the Gaia came in at US$21,000.

Off-grid container-based home is tiny in size and cost

by Adam Williams | NEW ATLAS | 21 Jan 2021

Pin-Up Houses, the Czech firm behind the rather colorful DIY US$10,000 tiny house, recently completed a new model that's based on a shipping container and cost $21,000 to build. Named Gaia, it offers full off-the-grid functionality with solar panels, a wind turbine, and rainwater collection system.

Gaia is based on a standard used shipping container measuring 6 x 2.4 m (20 x 8 ft) that has been modified. An additional roof shade made up of galvanized metal, plus some spray foam insulation, have been added to mitigate the poor thermal performance of shipping containers. There's also a drop-down deck area that's operated with a hand winch and can be used to boost outdoor living space or raised to close off the home.

Gaia is accessed by a glass sliding door that, along with the existing container doors, really opens it up to the outside. Its interior is finished in spruce plywood and available floorspace is largely taken up by one single area that doubles as living room and bedroom, with a sofa bed and lots of storage space made up of small cupboards and nooks. A wood-burning stove provides heat.

A small kitchenette with a sink, fridge, and propane-powered two-burner stove, sits next to the living area, plus the home has a bathroom with a sink, shower, and toilet.

Gaia's interior decor features a utilitarian finish of spruce plywood, while its simple layout offers lots of storage space
Gaia's interior decor features a utilitarian finish of spruce plywood, while its simple layout offers lots of storage space.

There's quite a lot of off-grid gear packed into this one. Power comes from a rooftop solar panel array comprising three 165-W panels, as well as a 400-W wind turbine. Both are hooked up to batteries and the battery level, current power consumption, charging rate, etc can be monitored remotely by using a mobile app. Additionally, a rainwater storage tank contains filters and a water pump, and will hold up to 1,000 L (264 gal) of water.

Pin-Up Houses says the home was built as an experiment and isn't officially up for sale, however the firm's Joshua Woodsman told us that he would be happy to sell it or make another if asked. The plans are also up for sale on the company's website for $190.

 
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Study suggests psychedelics promote eco-friendly behaviors by altering your relationship to nature

by Eric Dolan | PsyPost | 3 Sep 2017

Psychedelic drugs can positively affect people’s relationship with nature and promote eco-friendly behaviors, according to research published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

“In light of these findings, the present results once more raise the question whether a continuing prohibition of these experiences is indeed a worthwhile pursuit,” study authors Matthias Forstmann and Christina Sagioglou said in their article.

The experiences they’re talking about are produced by the so-called “classic” psychedelic drugs, which include lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), “magic” psilocybe mushrooms, peyote, dimethyltryptamine (DMT) and ayahuasca.

In their study, the researchers surveyed 1,487 about their past drug use, relationship to nature, personality traits, and a number of other demographic variables.

They found that people who had used classic psychedelics were more likely to report that they enjoyed spending time in nature and were more likely to see themselves as a part of nature. This effect was independent of personality and political orientation.

The heightened level of nature relatedness was not found among people who had consumed other types of recreational drugs like alcohol or stimulants.

Psychedelic users who felt their self-identity was embedded in nature, in turn, were more likely to report engaging in everyday pro-environmental behaviors, such as recycling and buying environmentally friendly products.

“That is, the perception of being part of the natural world — rather than being separate from it — that is heightened for people who have experience with classic psychedelics, is largely responsible for the increased pro-environmental behavior that these people report,” the researchers explained in their study.

The study employed a cross-sectional design, which prevents the researchers from making firm conclusions about cause and effect.

Rather than psychedelics promoting nature relatedness, for example, it could be that people who feel more connected to nature are more likely to consume psychedelic drugs. But the researchers do not beleive that this is the case.

“As the relationship we found remained significant after controlling for demographic variables and personality traits such as openness to experience, conscientiousness, or political attitudes, it is unlikely that the association we found can be entirely explained by a collection of personality traits stereotypically associated with psychedelic users (e.g. being of the ‘hippie’ type).”

 
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The Nordic Harvest vertical farm on the outskirts of Copenhagen in Denmark is expected to scale up production to 1,000 tonnes of salads and herbs per annum during 2021.

Wind-powered vertical veggie farm harvests first crops

by Paul Ridden | NEW ATLAS | 18 Dec 2020

The first phase of construction on one of Europe's largest vertical farm projects is now complete, and the first crop of organic salads and herbs is reportedly ready for delivery to local businesses.

The YesHealth Group and Nordic Harvest A/S started building the vertical farm in April, at northern Europe's largest wholesale market in Grønttorvet near Copenhagen in Denmark. The initial phase is expected to result in the production of some 200 tonnes of produce annually, but the facility will be expanded to 14 stories and 7,000 sq m (over 75,000 sq ft) during 2021, and production scaled up to 1,000 tonnes per year.
The Nordic Harvest operation is expected to scale up to produce 1,000 tonnes of salads and herbs per year
The Nordic Harvest operation is expected to scale up to produce 1,000 tonnes of salads and herbs per year.

Salads and veggies such as baby spinach, mint, basil and cilantro are planted across several floors inside the building, shielded from weather extremes, with their roots in water and lighting and heating needs met by more than 20,000 LEDs powered by certified wind energy.

All of the organic seeds are sprouted in gel until the roots take hold, with nutrients coming from an in-house bio-fertilizer that's made from the fermented roots of previously harvested crops with added natural minerals. Spent water is filtered and reused, helping the setup use much less water than traditional farming. And the controlled environment also means that the production process does not involve the use of pesticides.

The first phase of construction is complete, with the remainder of the facility growing to 7,000 square meters during 2021
The first phase of construction is complete, with the remainder of the facility growing to 7,000 square meters during 2021.

Each crop takes about 2-3 weeks from seed to fully grown, which means that harvesting is expected to take place 15 times per year. Nordic Harvest says that the first harvest has been reserved for use in commercial kitchens, but expects commercially available crops to appear in supermarkets early next year.

Meanwhile YesHealth will use data gathered by smart software to inform the designs of future vertical farm installations across Europe, Asia and the Middle East and North Africa.

 
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Impact of rising sea temperatures on marine life

Nova Southeastern University | Science Daily | 26 Jan 2021

Global warming or climate change. It doesn't matter what you call it. What matters is that right now it is having a direct and dramatic effect on marine environments across our planet.

"More immediately pressing than future climate change is the increasing frequency and severity of extreme 'underwater heatwaves' that we are already seeing around the world today," Lauren Nadler, Ph.D., who is an assistant professor in Nova Southeastern University's (NSU) Halmos College of Arts and Sciences. "This phenomenon is what we wanted to both simulate and understand."

Nadler is a co-author of a new study on this topic, which you can find published online at eLife Science Journal.

As a way to further document how increasing temperatures in our oceans are impacting marine life, Nadler and a team of researchers collected two common coral reef fishes -- the five-lined cardinalfish and the redbelly yellowtail fusilier -- from the northern Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Then, under controlled laboratory conditions, the team gradually increased temperatures by 3.0 degrees Celsius above the average summer temperatures for the area. But don't worry, they didn't boil the fish, rather, they increased the temps so they could measure realistically how each species responded to these warmer conditions over a five-week period.

The researchers point out that these underwater heatwaves can cause increases of up to 5 degrees C above seasonal average temperatures over the course of just days and can last for several weeks. This rise in temperature can lead to rapid physiological changes in these reef fishes, which could have long-term effects on survival.

"We found that the fusilier rapidly responded to thermal stress, with nearly immediate changes detected in gill shape and structure and blood parameters, however, the cardinalfish exhibited a delayed response and was far less able to adjust to the elevated temperatures," said Jacob Johansen, Ph.D., a co-author of the study who is an assistant research professor at the University of Hawaii's Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology at Manoa.

"More importantly, we identified seven parameters across both species that may be useful as biomarkers for evaluating how fast and to what extent coral reef fishes can cope with increasing temperatures. Our findings greatly improve our current understanding of physiological responses to ongoing thermal threats and disturbances, including which species may be most at risk," said Johansen.

The research team emphasises that the study is timely, given the rapid decline of tropical coral reefs worldwide, including the repeated mass coral bleaching and mortality events on the Great Barrier Reef in 2016, 2017, and 2020 -- all caused by summer heatwaves. Nadler indicated that climate change 'winners and losers' will ultimately be determined by the capacity to compensate for thermal stress in both the short term of days, weeks, and months, such as in response to heatwaves as we have demonstrated, and over the longer term of years, decades, and centuries.

"Our findings are immensely useful for scientists but also for managers, conservation planners, and policy makers charged with protecting important ecosystems, such as coral reefs, as well as communities who rely on coral reefs for food, culture, jobs, and their livelihoods," said Jodie Rummer, Ph.D., an associate professor at James Cook University´s ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and a co-author of the study. "Collectively, we need to be able to predict which species are going to survive and which will be most vulnerable to climate change so we can take action, as the decisions we make today will determine what coral reefs look like tomorrow."

 
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Fresh vegetables in the middle of winter? It’s possible, even in colder climates

by Adrian Higgins | OltNews | 20 Jan 2021

For Jabbour, garden writer, broadcaster and web editor, this “undercover gardening” has been part of his life for at least 20 years and is now fully expressed, both professionally and personally. Her family gets up to three-quarters of the household products from the garden. And she can tell the world about it, especially in her new book, “Growing Under Cover”.

Covered gardening takes a number of forms that take the gardener through a maze of methods and terminology – cold frames, floating covers, mini-hoop tunnels, and polytunnels. Jabbour has a place in his heart for everyone, and with good reason.

Without this protected approach, she could expect a limited growing season from late May to early October. But with about 70 percent of her garden now under some sort of cover, she can harvest up to 30 winter crops.

Covered gardening techniques and timing differ in warmer regions and further south, but the concept remains the same. Row covers and the like allow gardeners to extend the growing season at both ends, shelter new seedlings and tender transplants, and exclude insects and larger pests – including deer – without chemicals .

There is also something in the air, as more and more market gardeners seem to embrace the idea of year-round farming, perhaps influenced by the models of local small-scale food farms that have changed the agricultural landscape in the past. over the past two decades. The pandemic stay-at-home paradigm has also shifted attention to the home garden and ways to alleviate food insecurity.

In my community garden of 150 plots, where we see more winter covers than before, the perspective is that of a hill of ghostly white shrouds protecting the greens. In my plot, I covered beds with kale and collard greens sown in the fall, as well as lettuce. Having a salad fresh from the garden in January is nothing short of royal.


Jabbour advises beginners to start with a cold frame, essentially a slanted frame capped with a transparent plastic or glass hinged cover; it is hinged because it needs to be ventilated when the winter days are too hot. Cold frames are great for starting seedlings a few weeks earlier and having transplants ready in April when you need them.

I find the row covers the simplest device. Poke hoops of wire or pipes into your grow bed every three to four feet and cover them with the long, narrow row blankets, a spun synthetic fiber that allows light and rainwater in. reach the growth bed. The fabric should be secured either by clips on the hoops or weights where the fabric meets the floor, or both.

Like Jabbour, I use either thick wire, cut to form the required arcs, or 1/4 inch PVC plumbing pipe. I put the pipe hoops into 12-inch sections of half-inch pipe that were driven into the ground. The covers are available in two or three thicknesses, the thinnest offering protection against light frost, the thicker against more icy weather.
Crib beds work in two other main ways. A row cover or shade cloth can be used to give spring plants the protection they need from sun, wind, and cold to prevent extreme wilting.

And during the actual growing season, a light blanket or insect repellent cloth can protect plants from pest insects. It can be the difference between having a successful harvest or not, without resorting to spraying. I am thinking of flea beetles on arugula and eggplant, potato beetles on potatoes, butterfly worms on cabbage, and harlequin bugs on cabbage and related varieties. But there are rules; you need to make sure the fabric is laid before the pest arrives and is sealed against incursions. For plants that need pollination, you should peel off the barrier when your cucumbers, squash, and beans, for example, are in bloom.

These various fabrics are available from seed supply and horticultural companies. You can spend anywhere from $ 20 to over $ 100 on them, especially when purchasing long cut lengths as needed. But they last for several seasons, and for an avid gardener, they offer the happiness of growing plants all year round. Sources for the covers include Johnny’s selected seeds; Fedco seeds; Territorial seeds; Supplies for the gardener; and Lee Valley.



It is improper to covet other people’s possessions, but I glance impatiently at Jabbour’s ultimate rank blanket, a greenhouse called a polytunnel, or high tunnel, whose frame is covered with greenhouse-grade polyethylene. Fourteen feet wide and 24 feet long, it is a place of utility rather than ornament. Economy is a virtue. She paid less than $ 3,000 for it; an ornate Victorian-style greenhouse of a similar size would have cost around $ 150,000, she laughs heartily.

Its polytunnel is not heated but traps the sun’s rays. Jabbour told me that last week, with outside temperatures around 25 degrees Fahrenheit, it was 66 degrees toast in the tunnel.

In the summer, she can sit in a jungle of upright tomato and cucumber vines, with the sides rolled up to provide ventilation and bee access to turn flowers into fruit. She squeezed a small patio with a bench in the corner, a place to relax with a cup of tea.

Such a greenhouse would be unbearably hot in the DC area from May to September, but as a retreat now, in the days that are lengthening into the middle of winter, it is a little slice of heaven.

 
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Highly efficient process makes seawater drinkable in 30 minutes

by Michael Irving | New ATLAS | 10 Aug 2020

Access to clean, safe drinking water is a necessity that’s worryingly not being met in many parts of the world. A new study has used a material called a metal-organic framework (MOF) to filter pollutants out of seawater, generating large amounts of fresh water per day while using much less energy than other methods.

MOFs are extremely porous materials with high surface areas – theoretically, if one teaspoon of the stuff was unpacked it could cover a football field. That much surface area makes it great for grabbing hold of molecules and particles.

In this case, the team developed a new type of MOF dubbed PSP-MIL-53, and put it to work trapping salt and impurities in brackish water and seawater. When the material is placed in the water, it selectively pulls ions out of the liquid and holds them on its surface. Within 30 minutes, the MOF was able to reduce the total dissolved solids (TDS) in the water from 2,233 parts per million (ppm) to under 500 ppm. That’s well below the threshold of 600 ppm that the World Health Organization recommends for safe drinking water.

Using this technique, the material was able to produce as much as 139.5 L (36.9 gal) of fresh water per kg of MOF per day. And once the MOF is “full” of particles, it can be quickly and easily cleaned for reuse. To do so, it’s placed in sunlight, which causes it to release the captured salts in as little as four minutes.

While there’s no shortage of desalination systems in use or development, the team says that this new MOF is faster-acting than other techniques, and requires much less energy throughout the cycle.

Thermal desalination processes by evaporation are energy-intensive, and other technologies, such as reverse osmosis, has a number of drawbacks, including high energy consumption and chemical usage in membrane cleaning and dechlorination,” says Huanting Wang, lead author of the study. "Sunlight is the most abundant and renewable source of energy on Earth. Our development of a new adsorbent-based desalination process through the use of sunlight for regeneration provides an energy-efficient and environmentally-sustainable solution for desalination."

The research was published in the journal Nature Sustainability.

 
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The warming atmosphere is causing an arm of the powerful Gulf Stream to weaken.

In the Atlantic Ocean, subtle shifts hint at dramatic dangers

by Moises Velasquez-Manoff and Jeremy White | New York Times | 3 Mar 2021

The Gulf Stream has shaped climate and history on four continents.

Currents swing west from Africa, ultimately influencing weather patterns from Caracas to Miami to Europe.

Warmer water sweeps past continents, slowly turning into cooler water farther north.

The Gulf Stream propels Caribbean warmth past Cape Hatteras, N.C., before bending toward the British Isles.

But now, in the North Atlantic, there is the “cold blob.”

The fear: Melting Greenland ice will tip the delicate balance of hot and cold that defines not only the North Atlantic, but life far and wide.

It’s one of the mightiest rivers you will never see, carrying some 30 times more water than all the world’s freshwater rivers combined. In the North Atlantic, one arm of the Gulf Stream breaks toward Iceland, transporting vast amounts of warmth far northward, by one estimate supplying Scandinavia with heat equivalent to 78,000 times its current energy use. Without this current — a heat pump on a planetary scale — scientists believe that great swathes of the world might look quite different.

Now, a spate of studies, including one published last week, suggests this northern portion of the Gulf Stream and the deep ocean currents it’s connected to may be slowing. Pushing the bounds of oceanography, scientists have slung necklace-like sensor arrays across the Atlantic to better understand the complex network of currents that the Gulf Stream belongs to, not only at the surface, but hundreds of feet deep.

“We’re all wishing it’s not true,” Peter de Menocal, a paleoceanographer and president and director of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, said of the changing ocean currents.

“Because if that happens, it’s just a monstrous change.”

The consequences could include faster sea level rise along parts of the Eastern United States and parts of Europe, stronger hurricanes barreling into the Southeastern United States, and perhaps most ominously, reduced rainfall across the Sahel, a semi-arid swath of land running the width of Africa that is already a geopolitical tinderbox.

The scientists’ concern stems from their understanding of thousands of years of the prehistoric climate record. In the past, a great weakening or even shutdown of this arm of the Gulf Stream seems to have triggered rapid changes in temperatures and precipitation patterns around the North Atlantic and beyond.

The northern arm of the Gulf Stream is but one tentacle of a larger, ocean-spanning tangle of currents called the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, or AMOC. Scientists have strong evidence from ice and sediment cores that the AMOC has weakened and shut down before in the past 13,000 years. As a result, mean temperatures in parts of Europe may have rapidly dropped to about 15 degrees Celsius below today’s averages, ushering in arctic like conditions. Parts of northern Africa and northern South America became much drier. Rainfall may even have declined as far away as what is now China. And some of these changes may have occurred in a matter of decades, maybe less.

The AMOC is thus a poster child for the idea of climatic “tipping points”—of hard-to-predict thresholds in Earth’s climate system that, once crossed, have rapid, cascading
effects far beyond the corner of the globe where they occur. “It’s a switch,” said Dr. de Menocal, "and one that can be thrown quickly."

Which brings us to the cold blob. Almost everywhere around the world, average temperatures are rising— except southeast of Greenland where a large patch of the North Atlantic has become colder in recent years.

Deep beneath the surface, scientists are searching for changes in the currents.

Some fear that meltwater from Greenland is already inhibiting the northward flow of the Gulf Stream.

Atlantic currents are a complex engine powered by wind, salinity and heat.

Potential disruptions in this vast cycle of water, sinking as it cools, cuts to the heart of the scientific unease.

In short, the cold blob may signal that the northern arm of the Gulf Stream no longer arrives with the same strength to the North Atlantic. That a warming atmosphere has, paradoxically, cooled one part of the world.

The science remains relatively new, and not everyone agrees the AMOC is actually slowing. But in both scientific modeling of climate change and in the prehistoric record, a North Atlantic cooling presages a shutdown of the current. “One of the hallmarks of a shutdown is this cold blob,” says Dr. de Menocal. “The cold blob is a big deal.”

In 1513, the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León noticed something bizarre off the coast of today’s Florida: Relentless currents pushing his ships backward, overpowering the winds blowing them forward. He became the first European to describe the Gulf Stream. Benjamin Franklin finally mapped it in the late 1700s—he named it the “Gulf Stream”—by measuring changes in water temperature on a return trip from England.



Over the 20th century, oceanographers came to realize that the northern branch of the Gulf Stream was part of a gigantic loop of water, with warm surface water flowing north and colder water returning south, deep below the surface. This was the network of currents that scientists now call the AMOC.

The system was driven by North Atlantic water that, as it lost heat to the atmosphere and grew dense, sank to the ocean’s depths, pulling warmer surface water northward. In the middle part of the century, oceanographer Henry Stommel elucidated the physics of how the AMOC could change. His insight was that, depending on the balance of heat and salinity, the sinking effect—called “overturning”—could strengthen, or weaken, or maybe stop completely.

In the 1980s, Wallace Broecker, a geochemist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, pounced on that idea.

Colleagues studying ice cores from the Greenland ice sheet were seeing evidence of strange climatic “flickers” in the past. As Earth warmed from the deep freeze of the last ice age, which peaked around 22,000 years ago, temperatures would rise, then abruptly fall, then rise again just as swiftly. Dr. Broecker theorized this was caused by stops and starts in what he called the ocean’s “great conveyor belt”— the AMOC.

The clearest example began about 12,800 years ago. Glaciers that had once covered much of North America and Europe had retreated considerably, and the world was almost out of the deep freeze. But then, in just a few decades, Greenland and Western Europe plunged back into cold. Temperatures fell by around 10 degrees Celsius, or 18 degrees Fahrenheit, in parts of Greenland. Arctic-like conditions returned to parts of Europe.

The cold snap lasted perhaps 1,300 years—before reversing even more abruptly than it began. Scientists have observed the sudden changes in the pollen deposited at the bottom of European lakes and in changes in ocean sediments near Bermuda.

This forced a paradigm shift in how scientists thought about climate change. Earlier, they had tended to imagine creeping shifts occurring over many millennia. But by the late 1990s, they accepted that abrupt transitions, tipping points, could occur.

This didn’t bode well for humanity’s warming of the atmosphere. Dr. Broecker, who died in 2019, famously warned: “The climate system is an angry beast and we are poking it with sticks.”

Why did the AMOC shut down? A leading theory is that meltwater from retreating glaciers emptied into the North Atlantic or Arctic oceans. Freshwater is lighter than saltwater, and the sudden influx of more buoyant water could have impeded the sinking of denser, saltier water — that critical “overturning” phase of the AMOC.

Today we don’t have massive glacial lakes threatening to disgorge into the North Atlantic. But we do have the Greenland ice sheet, which is melting at the upper end of projections, or about six times faster than in the 1990s. And according to one study, the subpolar North Atlantic recently became less salty than at any time in the past 120 years.

There’s little agreement on cause. Changes in wind patterns or currents may be contributing, as could greater rainfall. But Stefan Rahmstorf, a physical oceanographer with the University of Potsdam in Germany, suspects that, similar to what happened some 12,800 years ago, meltwater from Greenland is beginning to slow the AMOC.

In 2014, a remarkable project launched in the North Atlantic. An array of sophisticated sensors were moored to the ocean floor between Newfoundland, Greenland and Scotland. They’re starting to provide an unprecedented view of the currents that shape the Atlantic.

Here off Labrador, we can see how waters move deep beneath the surface.

The sensors reveal the hidden workings of ocean circulation, which many consider a climate switch.

Below the waves, scientists are watching for signs of weakening across the North Atlantic.

In this location, cooler waters near the surface flow southward relatively swiftly.

Diving, we see the water begin sinking as it grows denser. This kind of sinking is a key part of the vertical motion of the currents, the engine that drives circulation.

Around 400 feet, the sinking becomes clearer as currents angle downward.

The water grows colder and the current slower at a depth of 600 feet or so.

It is the long-term change in the delicate balance of heat and cold, saltwater and freshwater, that scientists are tracking.

At greater depths, we see currents shift direction, moving westward, eventually joining an ocean-spanning round trip.



In 2015, Dr. Rahmstorf and his colleagues published a seminal paper arguing that the AMOC had weakened by 15 percent in recent decades, a slowdown they said was unprecedented in the past 1,000 years. He and his colleagues recently published another paper that used additional reconstructions of sea temperature around the North Atlantic, some going back 1,600 years, to determine that the recent slowdown began with the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, then accelerated after 1950.

Other scientists have also presented different evidence of a slowdown. The South Atlantic has become saltier in recent decades, according to a study by Chenyu Zhu at Ocean University of China and Zhengyu Liu at Nanjing Normal University, suggesting that more of the salt that once traveled north with the AMOC now remains in the tropics, producing what they call a “salinity pile-up.”

And Christopher Piecuch of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution recently argued that the Gulf Stream along Florida’s coast, also called the Florida current, has weakened. He found this by measuring the differences in sea level across the Gulf Stream. Earth’s rotation deflects flowing water to the right; this causes the two sides of the current to have slightly different sea levels—and the faster the current, the greater the difference.

Tide gauge measurements going back 110 years indicate that this contrast has declined, Dr. Piecuch found, particularly in the past two decades. This suggests the current has slowed.

For Dr. Rahmstorf, these lines of evidence bolster the argument that the AMOC is slowing.

In his view, the change is occurring right on schedule. “The long-term trend is exactly what was predicted by the models,” he said.

A 2019 report by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a synthesis of the most significant climate research worldwide, says that while the AMOC will “very likely” weaken later this century, collapse is “very unlikely.” Yet Dr. Rahmstorf worries about the unknowns in a system that scientists understand can rapidly shift between different states.

He points out that, in IPCC jargon, “very unlikely” translates to a probability of less than 10 percent. But if a nuclear reactor in your neighborhood had a less-than-10-percent likelihood of blowing up, he asked, “would you be reassured?”

“We still don’t know how far away this threshold is where it could break down altogether,” he said. If we limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial times —a goal of the Paris agreement among nations to fight climate change — a shutdown is unlikely, he thinks. “But for unmitigated warming, which is the world’s current trajectory, I think there’s increasing risk where we make AMOC so weak it goes over the edge and collapses.”

“There will be a lot of surprises if we disturb climate that much,”
he said. “It’s not at all predictable how bad things will be.”

Scientists also emphasize that the ultimate consequences of that weakening remain unclear. That’s in part because the world is in such uncharted territory. In the past, Europe became drastically cooler when the current shut down, but today any cooling might ultimately be muted or possibly canceled out by continued global heating.

But if past is prologue, a drastically altered AMOC could certainly shift rainfall patterns, scientists said, making parts of Europe and Northern Africa drier, and areas in the Southern hemisphere wetter. Changing ocean currents might affect marine ecosystems that people rely on for food and livelihood.

A changing Gulf Stream could also accelerate sea-level rise along parts of the Atlantic coast of the United States. In 2009 and 2010, when the stream inexplicably weakened by 30 percent, the Northeast saw seas rise at a rate unprecedented in the entire roughly 100-year record of tide gauges.

And if water in the tropical and subtropical Atlantic becomes warmer because that heat is no longer shunted north, the expanding reservoir of energy could strengthen hurricanes, something that scientists at the National Oceanography Centre in the United Kingdom argue is already happening. Hurricanes derive their energy from heat in the water.

Finally, in a perverse twist, a shutdown of the AMOC could exacerbate global heating. The ocean absorbs nearly one-third of human carbon dioxide emissions. But the sinking of salty, dense water—the overturning portion of the AMOC—is critical to that absorption. So, if the AMOC stops or greatly slows, and that water stops sinking, the accumulation of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere could accelerate.

Then there are those consequences that fall in the category of “global weirding.”

Scientists at the U.K.’s National Oceanography Centre have somewhat counterintuitively linked the cold blob in the North Atlantic with summer heat waves in Europe. In 2015 and 2018, the jet stream, a river of wind that moves from west to east over temperate latitudes in the northern hemisphere, made an unusual detour to the south around the cold blob. The wrinkle in atmospheric flow brought hotter-than-usual air into Europe, they contend, breaking temperature records.

The floats began their journeys in areas called the Iceland-Scotland and Denmark Strait pathways, two places where meltwater originates.

To study deeper currents, in 2014 scientists began releasing floats that drift 1,800 to 2,800 meters underwater.

“That was not predicted,” said Joel Hirschi, principal scientist at the centre and senior author of the research. It highlights how current seasonal forecasting models are unable to predict these warm summers. And it underscores the paradox that, far from ushering in a frigid future for, say, Paris, a cooler North Atlantic might actually make France’s summers more like Morocco’s.

Even so, Dr. Hirschi takes a wait-and-see stance on whether the AMOC is actually slowing.

“I have great respect for what Dr. Rahmstorf is doing. And it may well be spot on in the end,” he says. “But I’m afraid the data, the really robust data, is not there.”

Susan Lozier, a physical oceanographer and dean at the College of Sciences at Georgia Tech, also has her doubts about whether the AMOC is currently slowing. At issue, she says, is how scientists infer changes in the AMOC. We can directly measure many aspects of the ocean, such as temperature (it’s warming), oxygen levels (they’re declining), even how stratified it has become (more so). “There are very strong signals in the ocean of climate change,” she said.

But most studies on the AMOC don’t measure the “conveyor belt” directly. Instead, they use proxies to infer that the overturning has changed.

Such inference can be problematic when considering changes that occur over short time frames, says Dr. Lozier, because the changes observed could have other causes. Consider that cold blob in the North Atlantic, she said. Dr. Rahmstorf and others see it as evidence of a weakening Gulf Stream, but Dr. Lozier notes that shifts in wind patterns or how storms move over the ocean could also underlie the phenomenon. “There are other ways to explain it,” she said. “A lot of our conceptual understanding of AMOC is in isolation of other things going on in the ocean.”

Direct measurement of the AMOC only began relatively recently. A line of sensors between the Bahamas and the Canary Islands, called Rapid, was installed in 2004. A second sensor array, spanning the North Atlantic from Canada to Greenland to Scotland and called Osnap, went live in 2014. (Dr. Lozier is the international project lead for Osnap.)

Neither project has operated long enough to produce clear trends, in Dr. Lozier’s view. What they have shown, though, is lots of natural variability. In 2009 and 2010, for example, the AMOC weakened — “people were like, ‘Oh my God, this is happening,’” she said — only to pick right back up again over the following years.

They’ve also revealed a system of currents that’s far more complex than once envisioned.

Dr. Broecker’s old schematics of the AMOC posit a neat warm current flowing north along the western edge of the Atlantic and an equally neat cold current flowing back south below it. In fact, says Dr. Lozier, that deeper current is not confined to the western edge of the Atlantic, but rather flows southward via a number of “rivers” that are filled with eddies. The network of deep ocean currents is much more complicated than once envisioned, in other words, and figuring out how buoyant meltwater from Greenland might affect the formation of cold deepwater has become more complicated as well.

This is the place scientists currently find themselves in. They suspect the AMOC can work like a climate switch. They’re watching it closely. Some argue that it’s already changing, others that it’s too soon to tell.

“There’s no consensus on whether it has slowed to date, or if it’s currently slowing,” said Dr. Lozier. “But there is a consensus that if we continue to warm the atmosphere, it will slow.”

 
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